Sunday, July 31, 2011

“Things will never be the same again…”

I was recently talking to a friend who happens to have two boys that are the same ages of my sons. And just like us, they’re getting ready to send their oldest son off to college. I casually asked her how she was doing with the whole thing and she answered me with a memory. She described how when she was pregnant with James and getting close to delivery, she had this sudden moment of clarity. She remembers touching her stomach and feeling the enormity of the pending changes to her life, and the exhilarating anticipation of this new baby. And in one introspective flash she thought,  “Wow, things will never be the same again.”

She added, “And I sort of feel that way again, about James going away to college. I know that no matter what, things won’t ever return to the way they were before he left. Not really.”

And I know what she means. It’s the silent, deeper truth about sending your child away to college. Yes, of course, it’s an exciting time. And what mother doesn’t want her child to experience this bold new horizon, with all the eye-popping growth that comes with it? But the wispy sadness that I feel comes from knowing that change is here to stay. A precious era is ending and my heart gets achy when I think about it.

Oh, I know. Family life resumes quickly, we’re all busy, and our life will soon appear normal to any outsider looking in; except it won’t be. Things will feel dramatically different. Because one of my boys will be missing from our home. He’ll be gone.

So with all this in mind, we’re focused on having some fun during these last weeks with Patrick. This past weekend we all headed to San Francisco to see a comedy show and putter around. Of course I lugged my new camera with me.


On our way to our hotel we went drove through the Financial District.


The weather was wonderful. Sunny and in the high 60s. We decided to walk down Columbus Avenue to check out the City Lights Bookstore. It’s known as a literary landmark and billed as “one of the truly great independent bookstores in the United States.”


The sidewalks were packed with people. Later we learned that the San Francisco Marathon was on Sunday.

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This was our view as we passed by Chinatown. The colors looked so vibrant under the blue skies.

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The City Lights Bookstore has been a mecca for book lovers since 1953 when it was opened by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. With books from smaller, hard-to-find specialty publishers as well as the larger publishers, you’ll find titles here that you wouldn’t see on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.


The bookstore has three levels. Despite it’s size, the spaces feel wonderfully cramped with lots of old brick walls and books everywhere. There were printed blue signs displaying the various books sections.


And scattered on the walls were hand written signs like this one. I loved these little touches that let you know you’re in the culturally eclectic and dynamic city of San Francisco!


Afterwards we went to the Fisherman’s Wharf. As we passed through the crowded streets on the way to the famous Pier 39, we went by various fish vendors. Look at all this fresh crab! Can you guess what I had for dinner?


After dinner we headed out to the main entrance of Pier 39 to catch our taxi. The comedy show was 8:00 p.m. and we never laughed so hard. There were three comedians, and only one that flopped. It was such a perfect ending to our day.


The next morning while the guys slept in, I walked a few blocks over to the Ghirardelli Square.


We never made it there after dinner, so I had to have my chocolate in the morning instead; a steaming non-fat mocha.


On the way back to the hotel, I walked by the Hyde Pier and was surprised to see several swimmers out in the ocean on this early Sunday morning. Wow. I’m a warm water gal myself, and I can’t imagine jumping into the chilly Bay. How about you?  What were you doing on the last Sunday morning in July?


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Five tips to make your graduation party special

Well, the season for grad parties is over, and I’m finally posting a few pictures I managed to take before our guests arrived. As you can see, the Jesuit high school colors were red and gold with black as an accent color. I chose black tablecloths (a tad more masculine) and covered the tables with large-checkered fabric I found on sale at Joann’s Fabrics. I simply unrolled the fabric over one table and determined the length, and then measured and cut all the pieces quickly on my floor. No hemming of course, and luckily this fabric didn’t need it. If you’re going to do this you must determine the size of your tables prior to purchasing fabric. I think I bought eleven yards for $3.99 a yard with a coupon.


Do you like the tissue balls?  They reminded me of pom-poms which fit the high school theme. I purchased a dozen in various sizes HERE. But afterwards, I found out how to make them HERE.


For added color on my patio’s “ugly fence” side, I simply cut four inch ribbon in red and gold and hung strips from the patio’s side with white duck tape.


Patrick laughed when he saw his face on the M&Ms. You can purchase them HERE.


Here’s a close up of the tissue ball. And the strips of ribbon that were swaying in the breeze.

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Even though the chocolate fountain was a hit and we had cute monogram cookies from HERE, one thing was clear. Everyone still likes the homemade stuff. My chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies were all gone at the end of the night.

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I chose to display the dinner menu on white covered books. I simply determined the right size font and printed the names of each dish on the computer. I cut and positioned names with white duck tape.  By the way, Bandera’s Macho Salad is fantastic, you should try this recipe.

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Books are a perfect centerpiece for tables, to elevate vases of flowers or just reinforce your school theme. You can also create interest and height on your appetizer table by placing your plates of food on top of stacks of school books. I covered my books with white butcher paper but leaving them uncovered works fine. For more ideas using books as centerpieces go HERE.

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Simple coke bottles with yellow and red Gerbera daisies were on the tables. And votive candles (not shown on the tables yet).

And now, after a season of grad parties, there are a few things that stood out in my mind. And here are some of my tips:

Tip 1:  Have a Welcome Sign that offers basic info.

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Graduation parties are unique situations. For instance, unless you’re one of the first guests to arrive, chances are that there won’t be somebody at the door greeting you. Especially if it’s a bigger party. Often, you won’t even know the parents, only the graduate. The host needs to assume that someone is coming to their house for the first time. And when they enter, they will probably see faces that they don’t know. (Sorry, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to greet each guest.) The grad-party Guest needs to know three things immediately:

  • where do I put my gift?
  • where do I go next?
  • where do I get my drink?

The sign can be very simple; a poster board decorated with a balloon and crepe paper. I used an old chalkboard to fit the “school” theme but the main goal is to welcome your guest and not leave them standing around feeling lost. And place the basket for gift cards in a visible place with a bow.


Tip 2: Put someone in charge of that first drink. Timing is everything. Putting a beverage in a guest’s hand is the warmest way to say, “hey, we’re so glad you’re here.”

I personally like having someone opening the wine and pouring it. Passing out drinks. I recently watched the Barefoot Contessa’s show on cocktail parties and she set up a self-serve table similar to mine. It’s fine for smaller parties with close friends, but for a grad party where there’s a larger mix of people, I think it’s nicer to have someone assigned.

Tip 3: Don’t forget the music!

This is my personal pet peeve. There’s nothing that sets a festive atmosphere more than great music. Yet, so many times I find myself walking into a quiet event. I notice. Especially if it’s supposed to be a lively party. I know grad parties are tricky because of the age range, but here’s where parents get priority (at least in the beginning of the evening.).  Good old tunes parents know and love at first; and later, let the music get “younger.” We used a DJ, but letting the graduate create a CD of favorite tunes can get him or her involved.

Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to move your furniture. Think “cozy.” And use round tables.

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Photo: Patrick (phone in his hand, of course) with good friend, Sammie

Think about some of the best times you’ve had at a party. What did you notice?

After years of giving parties, this is what I know. People have fun when they’re involved. Talking, laughing, bumping into old faces. Meeting new people. And this kind of mingling cannot happen when people are miles apart. Yes, some of the worst social experiences I’ve had, have happened at mammoth-sized homes. Gorgeous places, except for one problem: the host didn’t create enough intimacy. The action was too spread out, making guests work too hard to mingle.

Think “cozy” when planning your seating areas. Choose round tables instead of oblong. It’s so much easier to join a circle of strangers where eye contact is better, especially when the tables are smaller. Remember, even if your space can accommodate big tables, keeping them smaller and placing them closer allows for more contact between guests.

This is my family room which is next to the patio. I personally like the food indoors during warm-weather events, so I moved my furniture into the garage so I could set up my buffet in this room. What about my dining room? I kept it open for random seating and quieter conversation.

Tip 5: Offer a guest book for friends and family and put someone in charge of passing it around


I like this idea. Someday I imagine myself sitting down and sighing over a lot of albums like this. Grab a scrapbook album, NOT a photo album (mine was from Michael’s Crafts Store) and provide a lot of pens. You can chose a book with black paper and use white pens if you like. But remember to put someone in charge of taking the book around. I didn’t do this and I’m sad to say that a lot of guests never wrote a message in Patrick’s book. Later, you can add pictures from the party.

Hope I gave you some helpful ideas!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Centerpieces

I love the idea of using books and flowers for centerpieces. You could do this for your next book club dinner, grad party or even for a wedding reception. You could choose book titles that reinforce your event’s theme, or choose book covers that coordinate with your color theme. Vintage books add so much charm! Here are some ideas:

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Photo credits: Katie Brown, Shannon Stellmacher Photography, The Knot, Google Images.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The secret to deeper relationships: Civility


When was the last time you did any of the following?

1. Listened or talked with someone you’ve always found uninteresting

2. Summarized the contents of your on-going conversation to someone who has just joined you

3. Made a new neighbor feel welcome by acknowledging them and saying, “welcome.”

4. Admitted that you might be wrong

5. When someone is speaking ill of another person, you offered something positive about the absent person

6. Conveyed respect for somebody sharing a different opinion than yours

7. Said the words, “please” or “thank you.”

8. Disposed of a piece of litter left behind by a stranger

9. Showed kindness to an animal

10. Made a new pot of coffee at the office after you drank the last cup

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Tell the truth. How many times did you answer “yes?”

Because these ten questions illustrate what Civility looks like in real life. Wait, before you tune out and discard ‘civility’ into that out-dated, irrelevant category in your head, think again.  According to P.M. Forni, the Cofounder of the John Hopkins Civility Project, and the Author of Choosing Civility, civility is the secret key to making us happier.

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That’s right. The author presents research to support that Civility--defined loosely as considerate and kind behavior--is a way of living that deepens our relationships. And he shares research that offers support for the link between our relationships and our physical and emotional health.

For instance, did you know?

  • That in 1979, after several years of observing thousands of men and women, mind-body researcher Lisa Berkman found that people living in isolation were dying at a rate of 1.9 to 3.1 times higher, than people who were connected in their community and had caring relationships.
  • In the 1990s researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that subjects who were part of diverse social networks were more effective in fighting off the basic cold.
  • People who have more friends have lower stress levels and longer lives (The Social Animal, David Brooks, 2011)

With this in mind, the author lists 25 essential behaviors that are relevant today. And his message? Civility is about Action.

         What do your Actions say about you?

 Yes, it’s about thinking the best of others, but then it’s putting this thought into action. Yes, it’s about feeling empathy toward others, but it’s also behaving with sensitivity when you’re with others. And Mr. Forni gets specific for the reader. While some of these 25 behaviors seem like no-brainers, these types of considerate and thoughtful actions require real effort in our world today.

Here’s one simple example. Forni says, “Let’s never forget that the quality of our listening is as good a measure of our humanity as any.”

Heady stuff. Lovely words, but he goes on to break it down. And he asks:

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Are you really a good listener when you’re face-to-face with another?

  • Do you listen with the conscious intent to hear what the other person is saying?
  • Do you keep eye contact during a conversation or do you find yourself “zoning out” during certain moments?
  • Do you convey a real interest in what someone is saying? Or, are you merely waiting for a chance to jump in to present your fascinating perspective.
  • Are your questions aimed at satisfying your need for gossipy details, or do you ask open-ended questions that can help the sharer gain more clarity about his own words, and ultimately, make better sense of his experience. It’s a different focus. One that prioritizes the other person.

           I worry about our kids

Is this how we listen to others? Think hard. Because I wonder if living in our frenetic paced, multi-tasking, techie world where we constantly scan twitter and Facebook, and seek the swiftest answer on our iPhones and computers, is hurting our face-to-face encounters. Demolishing our intimate people skills.


And as a Mom, I worry about our kids.  I wonder if living in a culture of instant text messaging, is creating panting Pavlovian creatures anxiously waiting for the next distraction; the latest flashing screen, and the most juicy and titillating headlines. And I wonder if the quiet, nuanced skills of civility aren’t being lost in this highly efficient tech culture that we live in.

Practicing civility is really a no-brainer. Acknowledge others. Speak kindly. Be inclusive. Convey respect for a different opinion. It’s a way of living that acknowledges the deeper Truth in life: that all our behaviors have consequences on one another, and when we respect and care about these consequences, we end up enriching our own lives.

Only these sorts of behaviors require that we pay attention; that we lift our eyes off our smart phones and become alert to the world. And that we be absolutely present in the moment. Because without attention, there is no meaningful interaction possible. It’s that simple.


So start today and lower your stress. Live longer. Be happier. Simply begin by paying attention and practicing a little civility, and be prepared for your relationships to transform.



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dinner party drinks and my latest thrift store find

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I love a great deal, don’t you? I found this set of vintage glassware in a thrift store for nine dollars. That’s right, nineteen pieces of glassware for nine bucks. There’s a matching set of six cordial glasses, another matching set of eight, and five shot glasses. Here’s a closer look. The photos don’t do justice, because I haven’t figured out how to take pictures of glassware, but hopefully you can see the lovely etching in the glasses. 

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Now. I have to admit that I’m a wine gal. I don’t usually have an aperitif before dinner, nor do I  typically sip on cordials or liqueurs after dinner. I know. What’s wrong with me? So to refresh my memory, I reviewed some yummy choices for my new favorite stemware.

An Aperitif is a cocktail served before the meal. The word aperitif comes from the Latin word aperire,  which means “to open,” and is usually a light, dry beverage meant to open up or spark the appetite.  The most familiar aperitif is Campari, the red Italian drink that is very bitter. Adding chilled soda is common.

Other popular aperitifs include Dubonnet and Lillet.

Dubonnet originated almost 150 years ago as a French aperitif but for the last fifty years both red and white versions in this country are American made—White Dubonnet is a dry white wine infused with herbs and a touch of brandy. While Red Dubonnet is much sweeter, flavored with spices and quinine.

Lillet is another wine-based aperitif that comes in red and white. Made in a small town in France, the recipe is secret although it’s a combination of herbs, roots and fruits. According to film lore, this was a favorite of James Bond, who preferred to mix Lillet in his martini.

The term Liqueur derives from the Latin word meaning “melt” or “dissolve”—and as a basic rule, these are liquors made from herbs nuts and spices. Popular choices include Kahlua, Amaretto, Frangelico and Sambuca. They are often poured into hot coffee after dinner or sipped on their own.

Liqueurs and Cordials are  terms that are often used interchangeably because they are both sweet after- dinner drinks made by distilling the alcohol through their choice of ingredients.

Cordials are generally made from fruits or fruit juices, and these include, Triple Sec, Grand Marnier, Curacao (Orange-flavored) and Chambord (Raspberry). Usually cordials are sipped in glasses poured three-fourths of the way full or served in double shot glasses.

The Brown Liquors include brandy, whiskey, scotch, cognac and bourbon and each have their own distinct flavor. Generally these are paired with a fine cigar or simple pound cake. As an after dinner drink they are served on the rocks or on their own. Good choices  are Remy Martin (cognac), Jameson (whiskey) or Glenfiddich (scotch).

Resources: and Spirits: The Art of the Aperitif, article from Food and Wine Magazine.


And now, some lovely dinner settings for inspiration

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A simple green leaf reinforces the motif in the tablecloth. You could use also write the guest’s name on the leaf and use as a place card. The bold napkin color adds spunk.

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Source: IndieFixx

I love the simplicity of these paper flowers, brown paper runner and stenciled napkins. Now I wonder what they’re drinking….


This is an example of how the flower choice can set a tone. The colors, tapered candles, silver pieces and French chair add a sense of formality. Looks like a pretty wedding table.

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This is a timeless look. Silver pieces mixed with rustic looking placemats, Hydrangeas, and petite topiaries. And don’t you love the touch of black in the glassware?

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Source: alexian events

I’m a fan of green. Love the colored glassware and embellished ribbon around the napkins.

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Pieces of green moss with simple ferns and garden flowers looks lovely on a summer table. Repeating the clear glassware (votive holders, glasses, domes and decanters) down the center of the table adds drama.

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